Love Is Its Own Country (y cada cabeza es un mundo)

These words have dropped from your father’s lips so many times over the past ten years, tiny soothing antacid pills for my latest emotional heartburn. Like Costa Rica itself, they remind me that acceptance is often the wisest path, especially when it comes to human foibles. Every head is its own world. We can fret and spin, or we can throw up our hands and shrug our shoulders, remembering that we ourselves are every bit as maddening and mysterious as anyone else.

If every head is its own world, then a couple is the strange and miraculous country that is made where two worlds overlap – the territory inside the place where the two orbs cross, the center of a Venn diagram. Every such country is different. It can be the most wonderful place imaginable, where the loneliness of the cold universe is forgotten, or it can be desolate and silent. It can change over time: large and expansive on exhilarating, invulnerable days, cramped and airless when times are bad. It passes through seasons, frosts and thaws, leaves that fall and grow again. It is the small sliver of our vastness that we share with another person. It is home to our giddiest nights and bleary-eyed breakfasts, bitter sighs and hands that find each other despite themselves. It is the place where our children are born. It is their whole universe, until they begin to venture forth beyond it.

I have learned many things during my ten years in Costa Rica, but none more important than this: that love is its own country, wherever it is found. Ours, your father’s and mine, is limited to the south by Panama and to the north by the stone wall at your grandparents’ house in Maine. Its official languages are English and Spanish, with the regional and familial linguistic quirks that are ours alone . Its national dish is the chicharrón. Its national anthem would surely be the subject of fierce debate, though it’s definitely by Joaquín Sabina. Its population of native-born citizens is one: you.

That might sound like a lonely proposition, but there is loneliness in simply being alive. After all, I hear that every head is its own world. As Milton put it, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” May you never have to do either. May your world be full of heavenly things you take from your past and make for yourself. May you save yourself the pain that comes from believing that we can ever completely know, let alone control, another person. Whether that person is your parent or your partner, half a world away or brushing against your arm on the couch, Costa Rican, American or Azerbaijani, you will only ever know one fraction of the depths within. If that little sliver that you share is a happy place, that is enough. More than enough: it’s marvelous.

At your northern border.

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